Postpartum Disorders

Knowing and understanding the signs and symptoms of a postpartum disorders should be an integral part of pre and postnatal education. We suggest that you and anyone who may be involved in helping with your postnatal recovery are aware of your risk factors to for experiencing a postpartum disorder, as well as the signs and symptoms the following disorders:


A type of clinical depression that occurs in individuals after childbirth.  Both parents can be affected, although the condition occurs more frequently in mothers compared to fathers. It may be misdiagnosed as the baby blues at first but the symptoms are more severe and last much longer and can occur well past the first few weeks postpartum.

Symptoms may include:

  • depressed mood or severe mood swings
  • excessive crying
  • difficulty bonding with your baby
  • withdrawing from loved ones
  • change in appetite
  • change in sleep patterns
  • fatigue
  • intense irritability and anger
  • fear that you are not a good mother
  • feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
  • diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
  • severe anxiety and panic attacks
  • thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • recurrent thoughts of death or suicide


Anxiety is an adaptive response that we feel when we feel unsafe or threatened. This feeling can occur in women after giving birth. Symptoms include: increased heart rate, feeling of impending doom, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, tightness in chest, difficulty sleeping, inability to shut brain off, over-protective behaviour and hyper vigilance around danger.


OCD affects 3-5% of new mothers and is defined by recurrent obsessions (receptive thoughts, ideas, mental images) and/or compulsions (receptive behaviours the individual is compelled to perform in order to ease the anxiety created from the obsession). In postpartum OCD, unwanted, intrusive thoughts usually are associated with baby and compulsive behaviour is also directed towards the child (e.g. avoiding feeding the child for fear of poisoning; throwing our objects that could harm the child).


9% of women will experience postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder and is precipitated by real or perceived trauma during labour and delivery. Symptoms include flashbacks/nightmares of the trauma experienced , re-experiencing of a post-traumatic event, anxiety, panic attacks and avoiding stimuli associated with the trauma.


Bipolar disorder is defined by periods of “highs” or mania and “lows” or depression. In the manic phase, the affected individual has extremely high energy, fast speech, insomnia (but there is little need for sleep), racing thoughts, delusions, grandiose thoughts and in come cases hallucinations. In the depressed phase the individual can experience low mood, irritability or severe depression. Postpartum bipolar disorder is rare but has an increased chance of occurring in mothers with a pre-existing mood disorder or if there is a family history of bipolar disorder.


This occurs in 1-2% of new mothers and is defined by the rapid onset of paranoid, grandiose or bizarre delusions, grossly disorganized behaviour, hallucinations, mood swings and confused thinking, which is dramatic change from previous functioning. This change can occur within 2-3 days after childbirth. Having a pre-existing mental disorder increases the risk of developing postpartum psychosis.